A long, long summer

Published 10:16 pm Thursday, August 30, 2012

Corridor floors are polished. Teachers have been busy setting up their classrooms. Administrators have new teachers as prepared as can be; curriculums are tuned, and schedules sorted.

On Tuesday, Suffolk’s public school students will return from their long summer break, and no doubt it will be a shock to the system.

After months of decompressing from the stress of textbooks, assignments and assessments with video games, vacations, movies, camp and waking up late, they’ll be back in the studious environment of the classroom, trying to get their brains back into gear.


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For those who attended summer school or pursued some other kind of lessons during the break, the process may be easier. But for most students, the change is bound to be an abrupt one.

It begs the question: Do American children get too much time off between school years? Compared to those in other countries, at about 11 weeks — depending on the district — American students certainly get a nice long break.

I recall my annual six weeks’ of freedom while growing up in Australia as an enormously long period. Returning to school was like time-traveling back to a previous epoch. I can only imagine what it would be like for students here.

The summer break in America, though I have no direct experience of it, is a great opportunity for youngsters to go off to camp and gain some independence, pile in the family van for a cross-country expedition, focus on learning a musical instrument, and countless other things.

But many students aren’t able to benefit from these opportunities. With both parents working hard to meet the rising cost of living, many are left to their own devices, and hours in front of an X-box are about as enriching as it gets.

They return to school with vastly improved thumb-eye coordination, but too far behind where they left off in other respects. Teachers struggle to reverse the regression, leaving less time for the new lessons students are meant to be learning.

As someone attuned to this issue, I hear the odd sliver of debate about it, mostly on NPR when it loosely relates to some other education issue of the day, like falling test scores.

Students and educators, alike might wish to shoot me down for suggesting more school, but maybe they’ll understand the point after spending a first-day-of-school trying to dredge up what feel like distant memories.